You’ve done it! You’ve finished the greatest story ever told…but how do you protect your screenplay? It’s a good idea for you to learn how to copyright a script because it can help you avoid legal battles, copyright infringement and while Final Draft provides a link to the WGA script registration, it may not be enough to protect your work.
Today, we’ll discuss the most ironclad way to protect your work as we get into how to copyright a script.
Then we’ll go over 5 steps that will help clarify a process that is essential to moving to the next level: selling your script.
Do you want credit? Copyright your script.
But first things first…
COPYRIGHT SCREENPLAY DEFINITION
What is a copyright?
A copyright is the proprietary entitlement to reproduce, publish, distribute or sell any work created to be classified as an intellectual property.
In the United States, it is done with the Library of Congress. Some examples of works that can be copyrighted are songs, poems, plays, scripts or audio-visual performances.
SHOULD I COPYRIGHT MY SCREENPLAY?
1. Deciding whether you should copyright your script
If you're like most writers, once you type the words The End or Fade To Black you get a much deserved feeling of accomplishment.
But the work is not done yet. You need to ensure your script stays protected.
While most screenwriters who want to take an extra step for the sake of submissions usually go through the WGA script registration service.
But remember, submitting to the WGA Registry is not the same as making the effort to copyright your screenplay.
Wondering how to copyright a movie idea? It starts here.
Even though a link to the WGA script registration page can be found in many best screenwriting software apps, the truth is, the WGA only establishes a date of creation... and nothing else.
So decide if this is the only protection you need.
But remember that a writer needs more than just a WGA script registration to establish ownership in a court of law.
That’s why the first question isn’t asking how to copyright a script, but if going through the WGA script registration process is sufficient for you.
Here are three good reasons why you should copyright your screenplay:
- First, you cannot contest ownership without a copyright.
- Second, you cannot receive statutory damages if a copyright is filed after you file a lawsuit.
- Third, within five years of publication the copyright is proof of ownership by date.
WGA script registration offers none of these guarantees.
Also, to sell your script you will need the official chain of title.
CHAIN OF TITLE DEFINITION
What is a chain of title?
A chain of title is a listed particular order of transfers of an intellectual property.
Copyrighting your script is the best way to establish a chain of title.
And the decision to copyright should be a matter of when, not if.
If you are not submitting to anyone, then a WGA script registration might be fine. But consider doing the “poor man’s copyright” anyway.
To do the “poor man’s copyright” just mail the entire screenplay to yourself.
When you receive it back in the mail, don't open it.
That said, if you are ready to sell then it is time to officially copyright your screenplay.
HOW TO COPYRIGHT A SCRIPT
2. Learn how to copyright a screenplay
Don’t worry, learning how to copyright a script is fairly easy. The first step is to head to the Library of Congress E-Copyright Office website.
It is important to note that the information you provide on your copyright registration will be accessible to the public.
Once you have setup your account, you can begin to copyright your screenplay.
First, you will go to the “Register A Work” tab...
You will want to register your script as a work of Performing Arts and NOT as a motion picture. This happens after your script is filmed.
Then, provide the information required on the application form. Some of these questions include:
- Title of Work
- Year of Completion
- Name(s) of Author(s)
Like we said, learning how to copyright a script is easy, but there are more than a few steps to complete the process.
So don’t forget to save as you go just in case you have to stop and come back later.
This is what your copyright application will look like.
HOW TO COPYRIGHT A SCREENPLAY
3. Pay the fees to copyright your screenplay
After you’ve reviewed your submission details it’s time to pay for the service. You will be taken away from the Library of Congress site for this step.
Fill in the information regarding your payment. The fee is $35. This is only $15 more than WGA script registration and provides much more security. A small price to pay to have guaranteed ownership of your work.
Continuing, upload the deposit electronically and create a shipping slip for it. Generating the slip is not mandatory but it does give you a digital receipt of your registration.
You will want this on hand as you will likely be waiting for your certification to arrive in the mail for a bit.
WHO HANDLES COPYRIGHT FILING?
Remember companies like LegalZoom will handle the copyright filing fees for you but at nearly triple the cost. You don’t save money or time as they will ask the same questions.
HOW TO COPYRIGHT A SCRIPT
4. Wait for your copyright certificate to arrive
Be prepared, it takes a while receive.
In fact, it can take up to 16 months for the Library of Congress to get back to you regarding the web-submitted copyright for your script.
This is all clearly laid out on their website.
Yes, 16 months seems like a long time to copyright a screenplay. But don’t worry. The claim of copyright is established the moment the payment goes through.
This means that even though you won’t see the actual documentation for quite some time, your script is definitely yours.
HOW TO COPYRIGHT A SCREENPLAY
5. Receive the copyright for your script
When you go to the mailbox, months after you have completed the steps in our how to copyright a screenplay guide, there will be an envelope.
You can open it and revel in the fact that the United States Library of Congress has officially recognized the material you submitted as your own.
Congratulations. Your script is copyrighted!
WRAPPING UP SCREENPLAY COPYRIGHTS
Up Next: How to write a logline producers won’t pass on
Now that you know how to copyright a screenplay, your next question might be what to do with your copyrighted screenplay.
The answer is simple: Sell it.
Of course, easier said than done. To do this you will need to package your script with a compelling logline.
Like all things, the devil's in the detail. So we have a can’t-miss article for building a logline that will get your script noticed.